Korean adoptee films pain of mother-child separations

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More than 6,400 Korean children were sent abroad in 1982, the year Engelstoft arrived in Denmark. In all, about 200,000 South Koreans were adopted overseas during the past six decades, mainly to white parents in America and Europe.

“Forget Me Not,” shot at Jeju’s Aeseowon shelter in 2013 and 2014, opens with the facility’s director reading Engelstoft a document signed by her birth mother. It shows that Engelstoft was relinquished on the same day she was born and that her mother pledged never to look for her.

The paper had been kept at an orphanage in Busan city where Engelstoft stayed before her adoption agency, Holt Children’s Services, matched her with Danish parents.

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Engelstoft believes her mother was one of many women who were asked by adoption agencies to sign relinquishment forms even before their children were born. Holt denies this, saying it took Engelstoft from the orphanage, not her mother.

Children were frequently listed as abandoned or orphaned, despite the presence of known relatives, which made them easily adoptable and their roots often untraceable.

“I feel deeply uncomfortable by having been bought and sold, sold by an adoption agency and my adoptive parents paying for me, and I think that I would like to reverse that,” Engelstoft said.

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The film then follows young mothers at Aeseowon, whose faces and voices are obscured for privacy. They do chores, share stories about bad boyfriends and the pain of childbirth, coo over ultrasound pictures and giggle throughout a pregnancy photoshoot.

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